Eight times Dr. Michael Rees has applied for grants to help support his nonprofit organization's quest to increase life-saving kidney transplants.
This week, Dr. Rees, a transplant surgeon, learned that the University of Toledo in partnership with his Maumee-based Alliance for Paired Donation had landed a four-year, $2 million federal grant.
"I'm so geeked," an elated Dr. Rees said Friday. "This is the eighth grant I've written to try to support the work we are doing. The challenge is what we're trying to get funding for is not basic science research; it's research to prove that a clinical concept works."
That concept involves testing willing kidney donors even when their kidneys are not compatible with loved ones but could be a match for other needy patients. Matching donors with recipients and finding a way for insurers to pay for the procedures is at the heart of what Dr. Rees hopes to demonstrate can work nationwide.
"That's what we do, and we basically have lived on philanthropy," he said.
The grant will pay for the administration of his agency, which will be working with the Dallas-based Southwest Transplant Alliance, which will perform the transplants, over the next four years.
"While the government is giving us $2 million of funding, we're going to save over $100 million over the course of the grant," Dr. Rees estimated. "If health-care reform is about improving quality of care and reducing cost, there is no better place for that to happen than in kidney transplants."
The cost for one patient to undergo dialysis is about $83,000 a year, he said, yet a transplant has an average cost of $100,000 the first year and $20,000 every year after that.
And transplant recipients live on average 10 years longer than a patient on dialysis, Dr. Rees said.
The UT-led project was one of 14 funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A spokesman for Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said 719 large projects were competing for funding.
A spokesman for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality declined to identify the other organizations that competed for the grants.
"Information about funded grants is available to the public, but grant applications are confidential because they contain proprietary information," said Farah Englert, a spokesman for the agency.
The research grant awarded to Dr. Rees and the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, underwent scientific peer review and "an objective assessment of merit" before its selection, she said.
Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor and vice president for biosciences and health affairs at UTMC, said UT outshone 99 percent of the applicants.
"Given all of the federal budget challenges that the government is now facing and the concerns about funding federal research grants, a $2 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is what we would refer to as a big deal," he said.
"It's so important because not only is it going to dramatically change the way we care for end-stage renal patients and improve the quality of their lives, it also will help relieve the burden on taxpayers.
"This is one of those very rare things that improves quality of life, enhances survival and lowers costs."
Dr. Rees applauded Senator Portman and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) for their support.
He said UT also was instrumental. The university, he said, agreed to put up the money for the Southwest Transplant Alliance to perform transplants until it can be reimbursed by insurance carriers.
"The University of Toledo is making an investment for all of America by agreeing to take the risk off the organization in Texas," he said.
More information about the Alliance for Paired Donation is available at paireddonation.org.